Sometimes, a news story leaves you feeling sick to the pit of your stomach; the murder of Gemma Hayter is one such instance. The 27-year-old was beaten, tortured and humiliated before being left to die. The case has caused outrage nationwide - rightly so - and it again shows how devastating disability hate crime can be. Gemma Hayter is not the first person to die as a result of disability hate crime. In recent years, there have been several high profile cases involving people with learning disabilities; Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, David Askew and Steven Hoskin to name but four. While they are extreme examples of hate crime, they all escalated from lower-level abuse, such as name-calling and bullying, that wasn't dealt with effectively. It is this sort of abuse that blights the lives of many people with learning disabilities on a daily basis. On the same day as Gemma Hayter's murderers were convicted, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a report stating that people with learning disabilities see harassment and abuse as an inevitable part of life. Worryingly, it seems to be on the rise; new figures show that disability hate crimes rose by more than a fifth in 2010. Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, police recorded 1,569 incidents in which the victim thought the alleged crime was motivated by their disability, compared with just 1,294 in 2009. However, many hate crimes still go unrecorded, either because they aren't reported to the police, or are classified as something else, such as anti-social behaviour. So the real figure could be a lot higher. But there are initiatives out there to try and address this. For example, numerous local authorities have recently launched schemes that give people with learning disabilities cards which have contact numbers where they can report hate crime. Elsewhere, Mencap's high-profile 'Stand by me' campaign has also engaged many police forces across the country, with the aim of improving the police's awareness of, and response to, disability hate crime. Engaging with, and changing the attitudes of, policemen and women is crucial - the EHRC report says that all too often those who commit hate crimes against people with disabilities get away with it. If people knew there were effective punishments, it would deter them from doing it. But perhaps more than anything we require a societal change to tackle disability hate crime, and the casual harassment and abuse that underpins it. We need to be ready to challenge people who act in this way and give a strong message that it is unacceptable in any form. Prejudice of all sorts towards disabled people should be as socially unacceptable as homophobia, racism and sexism. And hate crime needs to be seen as a crime just like - and in some senses more serious - than any other. There also needs to be a change in the public's perception of people with learning disabilities; the EHRC report says a more positive attitude towards disabled people needs to be engendered right across society. We need to flag up the positive contribution that people with disabilities make to society, and get away from the talk of 'burden' - on benefits or families - which implies that they are worth less than other people. They aren't and this needs to be put across in the mainstream media. It will require a lot of time and work, but this needs to be taken on, if cases like Gemma Hayter's are to be prevented in the future.